For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
A time to keep and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time for war, and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8
After you read this message, google “Turn, Turn, Turn” by the Byrds, a band from the 1960s and listen to a song that is based on the words of this chapter. We’ve all had the experience of a song being stuck on our “audio loop” and much of what we hear in the world is just noise. So listen to this song and put something good into your mind today.
I’ve written many times that I’m not a huge fan of multi-tasking. That’s because when we try to do too many things at once we are inefficient and ineffective. And likewise, when we try to be too many things at once, we end up mostly in a state of confusion in our minds and in our emotions. As the writer of Ecclesiastes says so eloquently, there is a time for everything under heaven. And some of us are struggling with multiple things and emotions competing for our time.
There is a time to work. Work is a necessity in life for at least two reasons—First, (at least this should be first) work is how we contribute to the world, it is one crucial way in which we love our neighbor. Everyone has an ability to do something to better the world—some deliver food, others prepare it, others serve it, others clean it up. If we don’t have a truck driver, we will have no food. If we don’t have someone to stock the stores at the shelves we won’t be able to buy food. And if we don’t have someone to pick up the garbage, we will all become sick and die. If there are no teachers, there is no one to teach someone how to farm, or how to drive, or the importance of health and sanitation. If there is no one to build the truck, or design the roads and bridges, or take care of the worker who gets sick, you get the idea. All of these jobs are interrelated. Second, work is how we provide for our families.
Yet in the midst of all of the work, there is fatigue—we all feel that. So there must be a time to rest, a time to relax and recharge.
Some of us are in mourning—whether it is the loss of a loved or a job or an opportunity. Yet, we can’t live in the state of mourning for very long because that become debilitating. Even in the midst of mourning a loss, there has to be a time to laugh. When the time of intense mourning has passed, there must again be a time to dance. On the flip side, there must be a time to mourn—the person who is dancing at a loss has probably not addressed the loss properly and will eventually have some kind of mental confusion as a result. That’s why these verses from Ecclesiastes are so brilliant, because they allow for us to swing back and forth between the polar opposites that we will face in life. They give us permission to mourn, but they also give us permission to dance. They give us permission to dance while reminding us that we must also take time to mourn. And by extension, all of the other things listed here and those, like work and rest, that are not listed, but implied.
The common denominator to all of these states of being is to breathe. We must breathe at all times. That means we don’t get so elated and excited that our excitement lacks control. And we don’t get so down and mournful that our sorrow becomes overwhelming. And the way to keep things even keel must be as simple (yet profound) as taking a deep breath. I’m writing this message from Boston, where I am visiting Holy Cross Seminary for a few days to do some guest teaching and a presentation to prospective students. There is the stress of the many things I’m doing in the next few days here, and the stress of all the things I’ve left behind in Tampa that aren’t getting done while I’m gone, and thankfully last night was a cool but pleasant night, clear skies, stars and a beautiful moon, and I took a walk for a while just to breathe. The breathing doesn’t take away the stress. It does relax me which makes the stress more manageable, and taking a few minutes to breathe is sometimes enough to get me through the next hurdle and through the next challenge.
So whether today is a time to mourn or dance, a time to weep or a time to laugh, a time to work or a time to rest, or a combination of these things in the same day, make sure that there is a time to breathe for a few minutes, and make sure that in those few minutes you are breathing, that you bring God into that through prayer, asking that whatever is going to occupy your time today will bring you closer to Him, serve others, and in all of it you’ll feel His peace.
Lord, thank You for the gift of this day, of another period of time to glorify You, to serve others, and to breathe. Help me to manage my time well today—when it is time to work, help me to stay focused and be efficient. When it is time to relax, help me to disengage from work and relax. In the times of my life when it is time to mourn, comfort me, and even in the midst of mourning, give me a time to laugh. Whatever happens in my time today, give me time to breathe, help me to make time to breathe, remind me that I need to breathe, and send others to me who will remind me to breathe or who will breathe with me—who can help me be calm and encourage me. Thank You for the gift of breath, and for these few moments that I have breathed with You. Amen.
Make a time to breathe every day.